Washington, 20 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Senior U.S. officials insist that NATO's air offensive against Yugoslavia will not change the agenda for its 50th anniversary summit that begins in Washington on Friday.
U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said Monday that the conflict in Kosovo has changed the tone of the summit but not the content. Rubin said:
"Generally speaking, let me simply say I think clearly there is going to be more of a focus on working on the Kosovo problem than there would have been had this not been a time when we are in military conflict with Belgrade, over Kosovo. I think there will be a lot of discussion about the future -- and how the Balkan region can be turned into place of stability, rather than a generator of instability."
U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said last week that the summit "will focus simultaneously on what has been and is, and what will be ... including every aspect of the situation in Kosovo and the surrounding region."
Officials in Washington responsible for planning the summit activities say the three-day conference is no longer being called a celebration of NATO's 50 years. It will be called a commemoration instead.
In addition, officials have dropped plans to have a squadron of fighter planes fly over Washington during Friday's official opening ceremony. That event was canceled in deference to the NATO pilots flying the bombing missions over Yugoslav territory.
Officials also say there will be less emphasis on gala dinners and receptions and more emphasis on business meetings.
"It was always planned to be a serious working meeting, but it was also planned to be one where they commemorated the 50th anniversary of NATO," White House aide Richard Socarides told Reuters, "obviously these leaders are very focused on the conflict in Kosovo."
Ronald Asmus, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, said the Balkan crisis merely highlights the importance of the NATO alliance itself. Asmus told reporters:
"We believe that NATO remains the institution of choice of the United States and its European allies to decide to act together militarily. That premise has moved from the realm of theory to the realm of practice in the Kosovo crisis in a way that no speech or article can express. Kosovo has underscored the reason why the U.S. and Europe still need a strong military alliance in the 21st century."
In a speech last month marking the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland as full alliance members, Albright said the primary goal of the summit will be the drafting of a statement of NATO's vision for the future. Albright said:
"The centerpiece of the Summit will be the unveiling of a revised strategic concept that will take into account the variety of future dangers the Alliance may face."
A senior State Department official who spoke on condition his name not be used said the Yugoslav campaign will have no effect on the discussion of NATO's strategic concept. The official said that, "what the strategic concept will do is place an emphasis on the need of NATO to be prepared to deal with the full spectrum of threats we may face in the future."
The summit is scheduled to begin about 1800 Prague time Friday with the welcoming ceremony for the heads of state and foreign ministers of NATO's 19 members. In addition, Washington is expecting leaders from 25 more nations who are members of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. That group includes the former Soviet Republics, the Baltic States and several central and east European nations.
However, Russia's presence at the summit is in doubt. Russia opposes NATO's military action against Belgrade. A session of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council is on the summit agenda, but State Department spokesman Rubin said Monday that the Russians have not yet said whether they will attend. Russia has withdrawn its representative from NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Asmus said the premise of the summit is "that the U.S. and Europe need a partnership in which we can count on each other." Said Asmus:
"We have worked diligently with our allies and partners to prepare for the upcoming Washington summit based on this premise. Last December the United States proposed a seven-initiative summit package designed to accomplish that goal. The content of that package can be summarized into three themes: new members, new missions and new partnerships."
NATO is not expected to issue new invitations during its summit in Washington. However, the nations most eager to join the alliance will be in attendance. The list of aspirants who feel they meet NATO's membership requirements now is comprised of: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The senior State Department official said the Kosovo crisis "will not have an impact on NATO's open-door policy." The official said the summit will reaffirm that "open-door" policy. Albright has said the summit will produce a blueprint for future NATO expansion.
In addition to the discussion of Kosovo and the plenary session of NATO members on Saturday, there will also be a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Joint Commission. That session is scheduled for late Saturday, Washington time. The State Department says a Ukrainian delegation headed by President Leonid Kuchma will meet with the heads of government of NATO's 19 members.
On Sunday, there will be a plenary meeting at the heads of state and government level of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. The Council is made up of the 19 members of the alliance and the 25 additional countries who work together in a variety of areas.
There will also be meetings of specialists, including NATO defense ministers. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is scheduled to hold a press conference on Saturday and Sunday.
The summit is expected to end with a communiqu. The leaders planning to attend the summit are expected to leave Washington on Monday.